That’s right, you heard me. Own it. Someone’s going to make you the villain of their story regardless — you might as well wear it like a badge of honour, because their opinion means d***.
There are always three sides to every story; yours, theirs, and the truth. Very rarely do all three perfectly align. It usually comes down to a he said-she said situation, with both sides stating their arguments, compromising or agreeing to disagree, and moving on.
When someone is determined to make you the enemy, no amount of compromise will do. You are a threat to their plotting and scheming, their overall existence. If they flip the narrative and put the focus on you and your awful, horrible, no good, very bad tendencies, who will be watching them?
Blood doesn’t mean family; family doesn’t mean blood. As you get older, you have the amazing benefit of choosing who you surround yourself with, and nowhere in the “Adulting Handbook” does it say your toxic family – whether it be parents, siblings, or other – are automatically included in your sacred circle.
Here are some rules I’ve learned over the years and things to be aware of when it comes to setting boundaries to help you own up to your “villain” title in true fashion:
1. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
You can hope and dream that they will be accepting and understanding of the boundaries you set, but remember: they’ve gotten accustomed to you not having a boundary. Expect some conflict here initially, but hold your ground.
2. Stick to it!
Don’t set a rule in place, only to bend or break it a few minutes later. Not only are you letting this person know that you can be haggled with and manipulated into doing what they want, but bet your ass they’ll use it again to their advantage in the future.
3. Be ready for a walk down Guilt Trip Alley.
Because not only have you taken something away from them, but you must be out to get them to be this cruel. They are family, after all — how could you?
4. There will likely be casualties.
When you cut off one family member, there are usually a few more that will also follow because said cut-off family member is great at telling stories and playing the victim. Hold your head high and realize you’re better off to begin with. Anyone that believes a story at face value without consulting sources or other parties involved isn’t worth you getting upset over.
5. You don’t always have to be the bigger person.
Sometimes what pettiness calls for is more pettiness. Not because it will actually solve anything, but because it can actually be therapeutic in a way. In no way does this mean I’m encouraging or condoning violence or destruction of property, but if I can find a way to make their day a little more difficult, I’ll take it.
6. Remember who is responsible for the situation or predicament.
You are not in control of how someone feels or reacts to something. You are not in charge of their emotional well-being or of making sure they fully comprehend something. You are not responsible for the choices they have made to get them to this point. You can be there and support them, but it is not your responsibility to fix them or the situation.
7. Lastly, have grace, understanding, forgiveness and compassion… for yourself.
When you begin to cut contact with “family” members, there is a certain sense of betrayal and disappointment you feel. Not necessarily right away, but it’s there. You’ve let your family down, you’ve broken that family trust/promise, and you’ve disappointed them. Shake those negative voices out of your head because that’s your poisoned brain talking. It’s much easier said than done and there’s a very good chance you’ll break one, if not several, of these rules of engagement when you first begin your elimination round. It’s normal to resist change or for change to feel a little weird and unknown at first. It does get easier.
Setting boundaries and sticking to them helps others not only respect you and your time, but helps you respect yourself more because you’re working toward taming your wild people-pleasing ways and putting yourself first when necessary. It’s a process and something you have to work on every single day, but the freedom is exhilarating and allows for us villains to continue our villainous ways for another day.
Boundaries are so important for those who are empathetic, and for those who love deeply.
When you have so much love to give others, when you just want to be the person who shows up, when you just want to be the person who fixes and helps and makes sure that the people in your life feel the sunniest kind of happiness, when you take on their emotions as your own, when you just want to make sure everything is okay, everyone feels seen, everyone feels loved — you attract human beings who are kind, and compassionate, and who give you that same love back, but you also tend to attract human beings who see your heart as something they can take advantage of at times. This is why so many empaths, or people who are deeply compassionate, fall into these relationships or friendships or family dynamics that end up draining them, or end up becoming one-sided, or toxic. The empathy, the love, the depth — it can be something so light filled and soft, but it can also, in a lot of cases, leave you feeling depleted, or leave you feeling empty because you’re not always poured into the same way.
And that is why it is so important to learn how to protect your energy as an empath. It is proven that a lot of highly sensitive people lack boundaries. They care very deeply, they want to nurture those around them, and they want to give and give and give. They pour out for the people they love. They have hearts that just can’t say no, that sometimes can’t walk away from situations that hurt them, or that drain them, because they ultimately don’t want to give up on the people in their life, they don’t want to turn their back on them, or abandon them, or make them think that they don’t care for them.
If you are like this — you don’t have to apologize for that. It is beautiful to be the person who cares, and often, a lot of us have grown up around this belief that love is sacrifice. That you don’t ever give up on someone. That you don’t ever walk away. That you give, and give, and give, and you fight for those in your life; you put them first. But that doesn’t mean you sacrifice at your own expense. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have boundaries and be empathetic, and compassionate, and of value to those in your life.
However, it takes a long time to learn that because, often, a lot of compassionate people don’t realize that they need to set stronger boundaries with those they care about. When you give so much of yourself, you often continue to give and you don’t pay attention to how your relationships or how the people in your life are affecting you, or your heart, or your happiness, until you’re burnt out. Until you feel alone. Until you’re in a toxic friendship, or relationship, and you just feel disheartened.
As an act of self love, it’s important to step back and find self-awareness. To really ask yourself what is building you up in life, and what is tearing you down. What hurts. What drains your energy.
Really ask yourself:
Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain? Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to “save” people close to you and fix their problems all the time? Do you find yourself deeply invested or deeply attached to very intense relationships, very quickly? In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either light-filled and beautiful or heavy and haunted with no in-between? Do you, in your heart, hate drama or anything along those lines, but you constantly are the person who gets put into the middle of it as a fixer or as a voice of reason? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed when you have to go and see people in your life because you know it will leave you drained afterwards? Do you feel like you often don’t have enough time for yourself because you’ve promised it away to others? Do you feel like you’ve let yourself down, or let yourself go, because you’ve given so much of your energy and time to others, and now you don’t have any energy to pour into yourself?
If any of these questions hit your heart, or made your stomach flip — it’s time to stand up for yourself and to create boundaries that help you protect your energy. At the end of the day, you are your own home. You have to take care of yourself. You have to take responsibility for not only the energy you’re putting out into the world, but also, the energy you’re allowing around you. We teach people how to love us. We teach people what we can handle, and what we cannot. We teach people how to respect us. And you deserve love, and respect. You deserve the same empathy you give to others. Love should not be something that leaves you feeling exhausted and drained. Nor should friendship, family. There is only so much you can give, before you need to really defend your heart.
So — how do you start to set boundaries?
You do it by being intentional, and by really coming home to yourself and being honest with yourself. People who love deeply often need to most learn how to create balance and boundaries around the amount of time they give to those they care about.
Ask yourself — really take the time to think about what your heart needs, what you need, for once.
How much space and solitude do you need to feel nourished, and energized?
What genuinely refreshes and recharges you?
What tends to drain you, what asks for you to lose yourself in order to keep it in your life?
What people tend to drain you?
What people tend to make your heart feel like it isn’t being held, like your love is not being valued, or reciprocated, like you’re giving and giving and giving to the point of exhaustion?
When do you feel your best? The most you? The most free?
When do you feel your worst? The heaviest? The loneliest, even when you’re surrounded by certain people?
When do you feel anxious, like you’re trapped, like you know you need to walk away or give less, but you just can’t?
That is where you begin. The things that came up for you when you were asking those questions to yourself — you know them deep in your heart. You know where you need to be kinder to yourself. You know where you deserve to pull your energy from, where you deserve to let it flow. You know. It’s a matter of allowing yourself to create boundaries around those things.
It can start by allowing yourself to say no to helping someone when you genuinely know that you don’t have the energy to do so. A healthy boundary looks like taking time for yourself, really giving yourself space to do even 15 minutes of something that makes your soul come alive, or that grounds you. A healthy boundary looks like pausing before you say yes to something, and really checking in with yourself. Do you actually want to do that thing? Do you actually want to go to that event? Do you actually want to be surrounded by those human beings? Or are you just saying yes to please people? Are you just saying yes so you don’t disappoint the people you care about? A healthy boundary looks like reinforcing your worth, and your needs. It looks like really affirming that you are allowed to ask for space, for help, for time away from someone, and that doesn’t take away from the value of your love, and that doesn’t mean that you are letting anyone down.
A healthy boundary looks like checking in with your feelings, and your thoughts, and asking yourself — is this mine? When you are compassionate or empathetic you feel things very deeply, and you often can take people’s emotions home with you. You can take their problems on as your own. You can make it your responsibility to fix what is going on in their life, you bring it into your mind, your heart. It’s like having an emotional hangover in a way, you walk away with conversations, feelings, fears, negativity, and it’s all stuck to you and it can drain you and exhaust you and really impact your mental health. Learning to assess those feelings, those things you’re holding onto and reminding yourself that often they are not yours to hold, is important. Let them go. You are not responsible for fixing the people in your life. You are only responsible for loving them. And you can love them deeply, and well, and also take care of yourself, and your heart.
A healthy boundary looks like really being honest with yourself about what hurts, and giving yourself permission to let go. To stop fighting for those who aren’t fighting for you. To stop pouring so much of your love into those who cannot value it. To really stand for what you desire, and what you need from a relationship, or from a loved one, and understanding that if they cannot give that to you, or reciprocate, then it is okay, but that you might need to match their energy. There is only so much you can give. There is only so much you can fight for until it breaks you. A healthy boundary within this is truly standing up for your heart and really making the decision to uphold that each and every single day. It’s checking in with yourself whenever you are made to feel like you are hard to love. It’s checking in with yourself whenever your heart aches, or it is mistreated, or you feel like you’re not being valued or respected. It’s about saying “I deserve more than this.” And it’s about sticking to that. It will be difficult at first, it will be so tough, but you have to defend your heart, and the way you desire to be loved. Again — you teach people how to love you. You do that by being dedicated to what you deserve, what you truly want. You don’t settle for things that don’t nurture, or nourish you, or fill you with love. You commit to that.
However, boundaries are not easy things to set. They come with a lot of guilt for people who love deeply. When we set boundaries, there are so many voices inside of us that tell us that we are being selfish. Or that we aren’t being a good person, or partner, when we don’t put someone before ourselves. We tell ourselves that putting someone’s needs before our own is the compassionate thing to do, that it is the right thing to do. We convince ourselves that by not giving them what they need, or giving them our love, or giving them every aspect of ourselves, we are unkind, or uncaring. We tell ourselves that we are responsible for their happiness, that we can’t just turn our backs on them. We tell ourselves that we are strong enough to give even if we aren’t receiving, that we were made to be the people in this world who pour even if no one is pouring back into us, that we can handle it.
But this is something I want you to really understand and sit with. The guilt you feel when setting a boundary is not because the boundary itself is wrong, it’s because of all the deeper, limiting beliefs you have that tell you it’s wrong. That tell you it is selfish. That tell you it is uncaring. That tell you it is dismissive. That tell you it is cruel, or unloving. But the boundary isn’t any of those things. It’s not wrong to want to take care of yourself. It is not wrong to walk away from a love that only ever leaves you feeling unworthy, and trapped. It is not wrong to advocate for your heart. It is not wrong to stand up for yourself. It is not wrong.
Try your best to remind yourself of that whenever the guilt bubbles up in your chest. It will be often, and consistent, at first. But you have to talk it down. Tell yourself: A boundary is not a lack of compassion. Boundaries are not a lack of caring. A boundary is not a lack of empathy. Boundaries are an act of self love, that better help for you to love those around you. The more you show up for yourself, the better you can show up for others. It’s why we’re always told to put our oxygen masks on before those we are seated beside when we are on a plane. We cannot pour from an empty cup. Boundaries help for you to ensure your cup is always full. And imagine how much more love you can give from that kind of place. How much lighter it would feel.
Lastly — be aware of how people react to your boundaries.
It’s important to see these reactions as valuable signs. Pay attention to how others react to your boundaries. Do they push against them? Do they have a hard time taking no for an answer? Do they make you feel guilty or bad about yourself in some other way? Do they take you seriously or think your boundaries are unreasonable or don’t apply to them? All of this is helpful information about the quality of that relationship. It hurts when we come to terms with the fact that the people we love and care for don’t have the same consideration for us. But it can be a guiding light. It can be a moment of clarity that encourages us to invest more in relationships where our boundaries and needs are respected than in those where they are not. And that is what you deserve.
You deserve the love you give to everyone around you. Your heart deserves more than just exhaustion. And you know that. It’s time to stand up for that. To really commit to that. The most important boundaries of all are the ones that you set for yourself. Whatever behaviour you permit for yourself and the rules that you live by will signal to others what you’ll accept from them too. You can’t help others until you help yourself first, so the ultimate act of self-love is setting a high standard for what you will accept in your life. Know that you are worthy of that standard.